Nostalgic, timeless photos of the early days of dance music - Features - Mixmag

Nostalgic, timeless photos of the early days of dance music

A new photobook by Soulla Petrou gets up close and personal with some of the 90s most influential DJs, musicians and crowds

  • Words: Isaac Muk | Photos: Soulla Petrou
  • 9 November 2022

One day in 2007, while working as a professional photographer who shot many of pop culture and music’s biggest and brightest, Soulla Petrou was invited to Miami. She had been asked to come and take some pictures for the 20th anniversary of Def Mix Productions, the DJ agency and management company.

When she arrived, inside the room were Frankie Knuckles, Hector Romero, Satoshi Tomiie and David Morales – co-founder of the incredibly influential outfit. Soulla took a number of photographs of those there, while Judy Weinstein, Def Mix’s other co-founder said that it was an incredibly “rare occasion to get them all in the same room at the same time”.

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One shot of the “Godfather of House” Frankie with his arm round David – tightly grabbing his friend’s right pectoral muscle – is featured in Soulla’s new photobook Rewind: Journey of a Music Photographer, which she is currently crowdfunding for self-publication. Digging through her archives between 1994 and 2009, the book brings several classic shots of the music scene to light.

“It was touch and go at the time if Frankie’s flight would get him into Miami in time for the group shots’,” Soulla says. “He turned up a bit tired and frazzled but in no time at all he was his usual bubbly self – laughing and joking around.

“We had a great deal of fun that day,” she continues. “Frankie giving me what he called his ‘Diana Ross pose’ and messing about with David Morales.”

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The photographs are an ode to the dance music scene of the 1990s – a time when club culture and DJ culture were in their infant days - as well as its progression through the 2000s. Many of her photographs were taken on commission for shoots by publications, including Mixmag and The Face.

On top of the Def Mix crew, she also shot other UK music legends, including General Levy for the front cover of the now-defunct Touch Magazine, as well as So Solid Crew’s Oxide & Neutrino, and Mr. Shabz in his local South London Brixton Market setting.

“It was an exciting time to be a photographer,” Soulla says. “You didn’t have the constraints around celebrity that you have now. All the images were a collaboration between the artists and myself – it was very personal, you had time to chat.

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“I never knew what I was doing next,” she adds. “Was it a portrait? A live gig? A club night? Or a trip abroad? Or all of them at the same time – those were the best jobs.”

People on the other side of the stage are also featured, capturing dancers at classic parties. One photograph sees Goldie in the crowd at an AWOL jungle party at Ministry of Sound in 1994, bursting full of 90s rave energy.

Some of the proceeds for the book will be donated to Univaja – an organisation set up to help the indigenous people of the Javari Valley in Brazil. While working on the final edit of the book earlier this year, she heard some tragic news: “My former Mixmag editor and friend Dom Philips was murdered in the Amazon while trying to shine a light on the plight of indigenous people devastated by commercial exploitation and destruction of their environment.

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“I would like to donate some of the proceeds from the sale of this book to the cause Dom championed,” she continues.

Soulla is reflective on her time documenting the music scene, and what the pictures mean now in 2022. “All the photographs presented here are my privileged moments with the artists,” she says. “Moments frozen in time that will never occur again, but will hopefully convey a sense of the artists’ enormous contribution to our musical history.

“It becomes ever more poignant to our musical history when they are no longer with us, and that’s why it’s so memorable to me.”

Rewind: Journey of a Music Photographer is crowdfunding its publication on Kickstarter

Isaac Muk is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter

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